Protecting Freedom for the Next Generation

Our kids must get as close to the election process and candidates as possible — but we've got to help them get there

Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Arizona in March 1961 on the steps of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Still registered as a Democrat at that point, Reagan campaigned for Republican Richard Nixon against Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy in their race to become the next U.S. president. There was growing concern among conservatives — as there is today — that expanding government was eroding American freedoms.

In a speech that foreshadowed the great speeches Reagan would give as president some 20 years later, he said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

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My phone rang on my desk at work. My wife’s cellphone number flashed on the caller ID. I answered. I heard a cheering crowd. “Can you hear that?” my wife said. She paused. In the background I heard a familiar voice rallying the crowd.

My wife came back, “It’s George W. Bush!”

It was Oct. 31, 2000, a few days away from Election Day. My wife had taken our then-four-year-old daughter, Megan, to a political rally at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. It was one of our first efforts to teach our first child about our nation’s government, and do our part to hand off freedom to the next generation.

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We’d be neglecting our duty as parents to not educate ourselves and our children about our government and how it works. If we don’t take that responsibility, there’s no guarantee others will. Unlike some of the clueless people interviewed in those person-on-the-street clips played on cable news channels, we know what the current presidential candidates stand for and against. We also follow our local elections and ballot initiatives.

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After my daughter’s experience at that political rally, her interest in American government, U.S. history, and politics has grown. The value of America’s Constitution, our political process, and the historical events that have shaped this nation is better learned and handed on through experiences than education from textbooks alone. Consider some of these opportunities to enrich your family’s knowledge and understanding in this election year, and afterward:

1.) Watch and discuss debates.
The second presidential debate just occurred last night. Families should tune into debates between local candidates running for city, state, or national office, and the third and remaining debate between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It’s not safe to base your political judgment on what you hear in the news or through other media outlets.

School-aged children aren’t too young to get involved.

More than in any election in modern history, these outlets are dispensing with any claim of objectivity and throwing their support behind and against candidates at an alarming rate. Debates are a valuable opportunity to hear directly from candidates and judge them for yourself. Include your school-aged children as you watch, and discuss with them what you and they think about the candidate’s positions.

2.) Read position statements.
Debates aren’t the best venue for candidates to present all of their goals, of course. Don’t trust the opposition’s fact-checking or the sound bites pushed by the media. For more in-depth reviews of where candidates stand on issues important to you, go to their websites, or get out the voter’s guide and read their position statements. With your school-aged children, discuss the rights and causes that are most important to you as individuals and as a family.

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Then read how the candidates stand on these issues.

3.) Support a ballot initiative or candidate.
Successful ballot initiatives and candidates can mean higher or lower tax rates, can redefine rights, and can result in other changes that may directly impact your family’s quality of life. If you and your family have strong opinions in favor of (or against) a ballot initiative or candidate, get involved by raising funds, posting signs and bumper stickers, attending rallies, and getting out people to vote. They may not have the right to vote, but school-aged children aren’t too young to get involved. At 14, my daughter volunteered, making calls to voters for the former Trail Blazers center Chris Dudley in his campaign for Oregon governor.

4.) Visit the capitals, museums, and city hall.
My daughter was eight years old the first time we took her on a trip to Washington, D.C. We took her again when my son was eight. Each time we took a tour of the White House and the Capitol, and sat on the steps of the Supreme Court. We also visited several monuments, including those erected in memory of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. We walked through the memorials commemorating those Americans who fought and gave their lives for freedom in World War II, Vietnam, and Korea. Each place we visited marked a reference point in our minds that helped us remember the principles on which our nation was built and thrives.

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Not everyone can visit our nation’s capital. But City Hall is a few miles away, and your state capital is likely no more than a day’s travel from home. There are also opportunities within reach of every neighborhood.

Wherever you live, your family can visit landmarks, memorials, and museums that preserve memories of the dreams and struggles of people who came before you. They were people who understood the need to fight for and protect freedom for themselves so they could hand it on to future generations who embrace the same dreams.

Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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